You know those less-than-stellar moments in parenting? Those times when your heart sinks and you feel like the very worst person in the world? If you don't, congrats, and please feel free to turn the page. If you do, stick around and let me tell you about one of my loser-mom moments and what I did to make them happen much less frequently.
It's a typical weekday evening: dinner is over, and I'm squeezing in some chores before the kids' bedtime. As I sit in the kitchen, immersed in making my grocery list and clipping coupons, my son, Will, then age 7, appears with the checkers game and asks me to play.
"I can't," I say. "I'm really busy, but I promise to play later." I suggest that he get out another one of his toys or find his sisters, Meg and Emma. Off he goes.
That night when the kids are in bed and I'm tidying up, I find the box of checkers on the floor. The checkers I'd promised Will we'd play with later— but never did. And, I swear, the smiling boy and girl pictured on the box are actually glaring at me. "What?" I say to them defensively. "I was really busy!" (This isn't the loser-mom moment yet.)
The next morning, I apologize to Will and ask him why he didn't remind me. "Because you promised you would play, and you should just remember your own promises," he answers.
Ouch. Loser-mom moment! I realize that lately I've been making more promises than I can keep. I feel horrible. I'm tempted to keep him home from school, spend hours playing checkers, give him ice cream for lunch, and take him shopping at the video-game store. But I exercise self-restraint, telling myself that I've apologized and should just move on and try to do better next time.
That evening I am elbow-deep in ground turkey when Will and the checkers reappear. "Darn! This kid has the worst timing," I think to myself. But remembering my loser-mom moment, I say, "I'm making burgers right now, but I'd love to play with you when I'm done."
He gets a look on his face that screams, "Here we go again!" So to seal the deal, I add, "Why don't you set the kitchen timer for five minutes? When it beeps, I'm all yours."
This little idea turns out to be one of the best I've had in a while. Will thinks it's cool that he gets to set the timer, and he loves watching the minutes tick away as I race to prepare dinner. I get to finish what I'm doing and still keep my promise. A win-win!
Three years later, this simple gadget is still working miracles around our house. Both my husband, Jay, and I use it to help the kids stay on schedule. And since, like all moms, I'm always in the middle of something, I often have the kids set the timer when they want my extended, undivided attention. The five-minute interval teaches them to respect my time and lets me wrap up what I'm doing so that I can focus on them. The result: no more broken promises. The boy and the girl on the checkers box have never been more proud.
Photo: Susan M. Schwieterman clocks time with her crew in Dayton, Ohio.
Originally published in the October 2012 issue of FamilyFun magazine.